Sunday, August 9, 2009


When it comes to the question, “What happens after death?” I tend to break it into two parts. First, there is the spiritual/religious aspect: Where does the soul (presuming a soul exists) go? I’ve heard countless answers. There are the traditional concepts of Heaven and Hell, which I’ve never found particularly attractive. Someone once explained to me that your last waking (living) moment stretches out infinitely, and you’re left with the eternal experience of the peaceful turning-point of death. Then there’s reincarnation, which is an appealing thought and no more ludicrous or provable than any other theory. Still, the question, with its completely unknowable answer, is enough for me to turn back to my stanch agnosticism, throw my hands up, and say that I neither know nor truly care. Might as well argue how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, for all that.

But when it comes to the physical side of things, the reality is much more definite. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, indeed, but it’s much more beautiful and vibrant than that. Decay and synthesis. It’s Elton John’s Circle of Life all over again. Yes…and isn’t that a beautiful concept?

One thing: grass and grasshopper. One thing: grasshopper and sparrow. One thing: sparrow and fox. One thing: fox and vulture. One thing, Jared, and its name is fire, burning today as a stalk in the field, tomorrow as a rabbit in its burrow, and the next day as an eleven-year-old girl named Shirin.

The vulture is fox; the fox, grasshopper; the grasshopper, rabbit; the rabbit, girl; the girl, grass. All together, we’re the life of this place, indistinguishable from one another, intermingling in the flow of fire, and the fire is god—not God with a capital
G, but rather one of the gods with a little g. Not the creator of the universe but the animator of this single place. To each of us is given its moment in the blaze, Jared, its spark to be surrendered to another when it’s sent, so that the blaze may go on. None may deny its spark to the general blaze and live forever—not any at all. Certainly not me, for all my giant intellect. Each—each!—is sent to another someday. You are sent, Jared—Louis. You’re on your way, both of you. I too am sent. To the wolf or the cougar or the vulture or the beetles or the grasses, I am sent. I’m sent and I thank you all, grasses in all your forms—fire in all your forms—sparrows and rabbits and mosquitoes and butterflies and salmon and rattlesnakes, for sharing yourselves with me for this time, and I’m bringing it all back, every last atom, paid in full, and I appreciate the loan.

My death will be the life of another, Jared—I swear that to you. And you watch, you come find me, because I’ll be standing again in these grasses and you’ll see me looking through the eyes of the fox and taking the air with the eagle and running in the track of the deer.

--Daniel Quinn

I’m torn in my grief. On the one hand, I think it’s silly. Shorty was, after all, just a horse. Just a horse in the sense that I am just a girl, and really neither of us is particularly significant in the general scheme of things. Really, I must be grieving more for myself and what I have lost (memories, namely), and if this is the most traumatic loss that’s occurred in my life, perhaps I need to get out more and see what it’s like to have a child or best friend die.

But on the other hand, I know there’s far more to it than that. All people are wired in different ways, and, well, I’m wired towards horses. It’s my make-up, my career path, my calling in life. I can’t change it, and I certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of it. And even at that, I suspect I feel the grief less acutely than others might. I’m lucky or cursed enough to have some capacity of emotional detachment.

But for an animal that saw me through years of adolescent angst, who helped to solidify my future goals, who served as a catalyst for my current lifestyle, who was always quiet, always patient, always kindhearted and willing, who won me money and took care of me, who loved peppermints and Twizzlers more than anything else in the world, who was wrapped in an adorable jet black package, who served simultaneously as teacher and pupil, whom I rode at least 2,000 times, if I had to count (and that might be a low estimate), who was faithful, and calm, and athletic, and a good partner and friend—what else can I say? The loss is huge, but life will go on. Already it's getting easier.

The little nondescript grave doesn't look like much. Just a raised area of gray dirt that's packed down hard by the weight of the tractor and scarred by broad tire marks in red clay. No marker adorns the spot as of yet, and no radiant angel stands guard to mark its holy significance and command all passers-by to stop, kneel, and pray. It's shaded in the morning beneath a copse of tall persimmon trees, but in the evening it faces the sunset at the base of a rolling green hill that serves as our hay pasture. Microbes and carrion-eaters have already moved in; the carcass will decompose, disintegrate, turn to earth, and from this earth will spring shoots that grow leafy and heavy with sugars, and this will be harvested, and baled, and utilized as nutrients by the hungry herd that remains.

Yes, and that will suffice.

The wind bids me leave you.
Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go.
We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.
Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken.
But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again,
And with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak.
Yea, I shall return with the tide,
And though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your understanding.
And not in vain will I seek.
If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts.
I go with the wind, but not down into emptiness;
And if this day is not a fulfillment of your needs and my love, then let it be a promise till another day. Know therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return.
The mist that drifts away at dawn, leaving but dew in the fields, shall rise and gather into a cloud and then fall down in rain.
And not unlike the mist have I been.

This day has ended.
It is closing upon us even as the water-lily upon its own tomorrow.
What was given us here we shall keep,
And if it suffices not, then again must we come together and together stretch our hands unto the giver.
Forget not that I shall come back to you.
A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body.
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.
Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

--Kahlil Gibran

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